XI. The Mail-Box
 

Climbing an oak at the cross-roads one day, not far from Farmer Green's house, Sandy Chipmunk discovered a queer box nailed to the trunk of the tree. Much as he wanted to, he couldn't look inside the box, because its lid was closed. And since Sandy was afraid the box might be some sort of trap, he didn't dare go near it and poke at the lid.

Later that day Sandy told Frisky Squirrel about the strange box. And Frisky told Fatty Coon. And Fatty Coon told somebody else.

So the news traveled, until at last it reached the sharp ears of old Mr. Crow.

By the time Mr. Crow heard the story it had grown amazingly. And it went something like this: Farmer Green had bought a new trap in the village. And he had nailed it on a tree to catch all sorts of animals and birds. And after he had caught all the forest-folk in Pleasant Valley he intended to take the trap to Swift River and set it for fish and eels and turtles.

When Mr. Crow heard the news he haw-hawed loudly.

"What are you laughing about?" Jasper Jay asked him. (It was Jasper who repeated the story to Mr. Crow.) "You wouldn't think it was such a joke if you were caught in the trap."

"Trap!" Mr. Crow sneered. "That's no trap. That's what's called a mail-box. Every day a man with letters and newspapers drives over here from the village. And he stops at the cross-roads and leaves something in the box for Farmer Green."

As soon as he heard that, Jasper Jay flew away to tell everybody about the mail-box. And at last Sandy Chipmunk heard the story. But by the time it reached his ears--after it had been told by one person to another almost forty times--the story was somewhat different from what it had been when Mr. Crow first told it to Jasper Jay. This is what Sandy heard: The thing on the tree was a mailbox. Every day a man drove from the village in a wagon drawn by twelve horses. He had a load of letters as big as six haystacks. And he left a handful of letters in that box, because he wanted to get rid of them so he could go back to the village for more. And any one could take a letter--if it happened to be for him.

It was Frisky Squirrel who told the story to Sandy. Of course, after so much telling it had changed a good deal. But Sandy Chipmunk didn't know that. And he hurried to the cross-roads at once, to watch for the man driving the twelve horses.

When he reached the oak, where the box was, Sandy climbed the tree and perched himself on a limb and waited. He had not sat there long before he saw a man drive up the road. Sandy Chipmunk was surprised when the man stopped beneath the tree and dropped some letters and newspapers into the box. He was surprised because the man drove only one horse, instead of twelve. And the man had only a single bag of mail in his wagon, instead of a great heap--as big as six haystacks.

Sandy Chipmunk was somewhat disappointed. But he was glad of one thing: The man left the lid of the box open. And as soon as he had driven on again, Sandy crept down the tree and crawled right inside the mail-box.

Though he was not expecting a letter from anybody, he thought it would be just as well to look and see if the man had left one for him.

Now, Sandy had never learned to read. And you might think it would do him no good at all to look at the envelopes. But he soon came upon one which he was sure was his. And the reason for that was that he had found an envelope with the picture of a chipmunk in one corner of it!

That was enough for Sandy.

"I'm glad I came!" he said to himself. "Here's a letter for me! And how surprised everybody will be!"

So he took the letter in his mouth and started down the tree.

The very first person he surprised was Farmer Green himself. He had walked to the cross-roads from his house. And he had almost reached the oak when he saw Sandy Chipmunk spring from the tree to the stone wall, with a letter in his mouth, and scamper away.

Farmer Green ran after Sandy. And he threw stones at him. But Sandy Chipmunk ran so fast that Farmer Green soon lost sight of him.

"I'd like to know what was in that letter," Farmer Green said, when he told his family what had happened. "I'll have to warn the letter-carrier to be sure to close the mail-box after this, for I can't have any more of my letters stolen."

Johnnie Green couldn't help laughing, when he heard his father tell about the chipmunk running away with a letter in his mouth.

But Farmer Green didn't seem to see anything to laugh at.

"I only hope," he said, "the letter was nothing of importance."